GM's move to eliminate waste at 62 plans means 43%of its global manufacturing facilities no longer send any production waste to landfills. The company’s goal, announced in 2008, is to convert half of its major manufacturing facilities worldwide into landfill free operations by the end of 2010. To date, GM is 87% closer to delivering on that commitment.

“We’ve been working for quite some time at eliminating waste and developing support systems to recycle or reuse wastes we can’t yet eliminate,” said Mike Robinson, GM vice president of Environment, Energy and Safety policy. “These plants have taken this process to its highest level. They are leading General Motors and the worldwide manufacturing industry.”

On average, more than 97% of waste materials from GM’s zero landfill plants are recycled or reused and about 3% is converted to energy at waste-to-energy facilities replacing fossil fuels. “Reducing the impact of our manufacturing facilities is an important component of our efforts to remove the automobile from the environmental equation,” Robinson added. “We are actively pursuing ways to improve fuel economy, reduce oil consumption and reduce the CO2 emissions of our vehicles. Our work, however, goes beyond our vehicles to improving the environmental performance of our operations, too.”

More than 2 million tons of waste materials will be recycled or reused at GM plants worldwide this year. An additional 45,000 tons will be converted to energy at waste-to-energy facilities. Although “zero landfill” sites recycle or reuse their waste in some way, other GM facilities also attain high levels of recycling. Overall, GM’s global facilities currently recycle more than 90% of the waste they generate, Robinson noted.

Waste elimination and recycling at GM’s zero landfill plants and other facilities will prevent more than 3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent emission reductions from entering the atmosphere this year. Other environmental benefits include avoiding potential environmental impacts from landfill waste. Additionally, recycling materials to make new products reduces energy use and manufacturing costs, compared to using raw materials.

Some of the materials recycled at GM’s zero landfill sites this year will include 650,000 tons of scrap metal, 16,600 tons of wood, 21,600 tons of cardboard, and 3,600 tons of plastic. Part of the challenge in reaching zero landfill status is finding uses for recyclable materials. At GM’s zero landfill plants, even the smallest piece of waste is put to a productive reuse. For example:

  • Waste aluminum generated at GM facilities is sent to GM foundries to be reused to produce engine and transmission components.
  • Steel, alloy metals, and paper are sent to recyclers for reconstitution into a variety of products.
  • Used oil is reconditioned for reuse in GM facilities.
  • Wood pallets are reused, rebuilt, ground into landscape chips or sent to waste-to-energy facilities.
  • Empty drums and totes are refurbished and used again and again.
  • Cardboard is collected, compacted and sold for making new cardboard materials.

In fact, GM explores opportunities to use recycled waste products from its own manufacturing facilities in parts for new vehicles. This allows for a closed-loop process where GM can divert waste that may otherwise go to landfill to good use as part of a new product. Take the headliner of the 2010 Buick LaCrosse, for example. The substrate, or backing, of the headliner is fabricated from recycled cardboard shipping containers from one of the company’s stamping plants. GM works collaboratively with suppliers in developing these closed-loop systems and in recyclable uses of waste by-products.